With its full state funding finally secured, VISIT FLORIDA’s board of directors approved a $76 million marketing plan for 2017-’18 that pours far more of the state money into core marketing programs than before, all but eliminates sponsorships, and pares down administrative costs backed by the state money.
In a conference call meeting Tuesday, the attending members voted unanimously for the plan that puts $39 million, more than half of the state money approved earlier this month, into marketing efforts for North American visitors; another $11 million aimed at four international markets, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, and Germany; and another $15 million into various other marketing efforts, ranging from welcome stations at the state lines to $1 million specifically earmarked for a Veterans for Florida program.
Various board and VISIT FLORIDA staff members occasionally yet only briefly acknowledged that the state’s official tourism marketing corporation dodged a bullet this spring after Speaker Richard Corcoran led an effort seeking to cut state funding to to just $25 million, out of concerns of lack of transparency and accountability and questionable spending last year. The $76 million was restored only through the legislative deal struck during the special session three weeks ago, between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who, himself, late last year, fired and replaced the last VISIT FLORIDA president and other top executives, and issued a list of reform demands for the organization.
“I truly believe in my heart of hearts this is VISIT FLORIDA 2.0,” said Interim Chief Marketing Officer Nelson Mongiovi.
The plan approved Tuesday eliminates $11 million from the sponsorship pool of money, and reduces the administrative costs charged to the state by $5 million. All of that was pushed into the various marketing programs, particularly into the international marketing program.
Yet the bottom line goal of the marketing program was doubted and debated throughout Tuesday’s meeting.
Mongiovi set forth a goal of reaching 120 million visitors in calendar year 2017, which would be an 6 percent increase from the record 113 million that Florida attracted last year. Various board members raised concerns over whether that 120 million number was realistic, given some concerns about a potentially softening international market, and given the six months of 2017 in which VISIT FLORIDA found itself in turmoil, shedding staff and potentially losing momentum, while it awaited its fate and the prospect of huge state cuts.
“If I were betting on my private business, I would put it as an aspirational goal but certainly not as a realistic goal, just so we don’t get caught by someone saying, ‘Did you hit 120 million visitors?'” said Gene Prescott of The Biltmore Hotel. “If we can hit it, that’s fantastic. But I think it’s optimistic.”
The goal wasn’t changed, but it was downplayed. Mongiovi and others insisted repeatedly that VISIT FLORIDA’s main goal is to improve the yield of visitors – that is, to attract more of the kind of visitors who spend lots of money. That’s one reason for the increased marketing money going into the international markets. They also discussed their desire to replace or add to the total visitors’ goal with a goal that reflects economic impact dollars.
“I’m focusing on yield. Having the right visitors matter,” said VISIT FLORIDA President Ken Lawson.
Rick Scott heads to Washington D.C. this week, ostensibly to meet with members of the Florida GOP congressional delegation regarding the health care bill unveiled last Thursday by Senate Republicans.
What Scott thinks of the bill, or what changes he believes are warranted, remains a mystery.
“I want to thank President Trump; he’s absolutely committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare. I think that’s positive,” the governor declared to a small group of reporters Monday afternoon.
The comments came after Scott introduced former state Representative and Public Service Commission (PSC) member Jimmy Patronis as Florida’s new Chief Financial Officer during an event in the new offices of Aero Simulation, located near I-4 and U.S. 301 in East Tampa.
The governor kept it vague when asked to specify his exact concerns about the new bill, which was just published Thursday and may (or may not) come before the full Senate by the end of this week. When looking at the legislation, Scott said he is guided by two main thoughts: One, Florida is treated fairly in the process; two, that everyone has the right to choose the most suitable health care plan.
“We all pay our own taxes; we should be treated fairly in how those dollars come back to our state,” Scott said. “You should have the right to choose the insurance that fits you and your family.”
Critics of the GOP proposals in both the House and the Senate focus on the more than $800 billion in proposed cuts to Medicaid, which go toward fulfilling their stated mandate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“What’s important to be me is that Florida [is] treated fairly,” Scott reiterated in response to those concerns.
“As you know when I came in, our Medicaid program had been growing way faster than our general revenues,” he said. “We came up with a better way of doing it. We’ve seen a reduction in the cost per capita of our Medicaid population. It’s very important that people have access to good quality health care at a price. Whether you’re paying for it, your employer’s paying for it, or your government’s paying for it. Somebody’s paying for this. We’ve got to find a way to reduce the cost of health care. The problem with health care is that it cost too much.”
When asked again if he had specific issues with the bill, whose contents have been argued about nationally in the past few days, the governor chose to ignore the question.
“We know that President Trump inherited a mess,” he responded. “Obamacare was spiraling out of control. The costs were skyrocketing, they’ve gone up way too fast.”
Every governor in the country is obviously concerned with what will transpire out of Washington on health care.
But for Scott, the interest is intense. Before becoming governor seven years ago, the most important part of his resume was in the 1990s, his years as the head of the massive Columbia/HCA hospital chain.
It was at that time, Scott led the private sector activism against Hillary Clinton‘s attempt to remake health care.
After leaving HCA/Columbia in the late 90s (where it incurred the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, totaling $1.7 billion), Scott again resurfaced as the face of the opposition to a Democratic Party-based plan to again reform the health care system, this time under Barack Obama in 2009.
That’s when Scott formed Conservatives for Patients Rights, a vehicle designed to stop Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“I used to run the largest hospital company in the country, that’s very important,” Scott told reporters Monday. “So I’m going to keep fighting for the things that I believe in.”
(Shortly after the governor’s news conference, the Congressional Budget Office announced the Senate’s bill would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026.)
Scott was in Tampa Monday afternoon for the third of three scheduled stops where he was traveling with Patronis, an earlier Scott appointee to the PSC and the Constitution Revision Commission in March.
In becoming CFO, Patronis resigned from both of those positions.
Speaking with reporters, Patronis begged off any discussion that he might be thinking about a CFO candidacy in 2018.
“They’ll be plenty of time to talk about politics later, right now I’m just really focused on getting up to speed on the job duties of the CFO’s office,” he said, adding that he’ll sit down with outgoing CFO Atwater Tuesday to learn more about the position.
“I wanted somebody who really cared about the state, he understands business, he understands the impact that taxes have, that regulations have, he’s served in the Legislature,” Scott said. “What I can tell you about Jimmy Patronis is he’ll always try to do the right thing. I look forward to working with him at the Governor/Cabinet meetings, because I know he’ll always show up and be thoughtful about the decision-making process.”
Among those attending the news conference were Tampa Bay-area Republicans Tom Lee, Wilton Simpson, Chris Latvala and Shawn Harrison. Patronis’ former PSC colleague Julie Brown was also there.
Gov. Rick Scott made it official Monday, formally announcing former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis will serve as the state’s next Chief Financial Officer.
The announcement, which occurred at Patronis’ family restaurant in Panama City, puts an end to months of speculation about who would replace outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater, who is leaving June 30 for a job at Florida Atlantic University. Patronis, an early supporter of Scott’s, was long believed to be a top contender for the post.
“The biggest legacy you have as governor is the people you get to work with,” said Scott during brief remarks. “I think today is going to continue the Jimmy Patronis legacy of if you … stand up for the right things, if you work your tail off, every opportunity is afforded to you. This is a great day for the Panhandle, and it’s a great day for our great state.”
Patronis served in the Florida House from 2006 until 2014. He spent his final two years in the House as the chairman of the House Economic Affairs Committee.
Scott appointed Patronis to a four-year term to the Public Service Commission in 2015. And earlier this year, the governor appointed Patronis to the Constitution Revisions Commission. Patronis submitted his resignation to the Public Service Commission, and told reporters Monday he had already submitted his resignation to the CRC.
Patronis said was honored the governor selected him for the post, and said he has spent his life trying to give back to his community.
“I truly believe every family that every family, from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Miami to the Florida Keys, should have every opportunity to succeed here,” said Patronis. “That is in my heart, that is what I believe, that’s my commitment to all of you in the room; that’s my commitment to you, governor; and that’s my commitment to the people of Florida. I take this honor tremendously seriously, and I really look forward to serving as your next CFO of this state.”
Patronis will serve out the remainder of Atwater’s term, and could have an advantage over other Republicans if he chooses to run for a full term in 2018. The 45-year-old was tight-lipped about his 2018 intentions, telling reporters in Panama City “there will be plenty of time to talk about politics later.”
“Right now, I’m just focused on doing the best job I can as CFO for the state,” he said.
Patronis will be sworn in Friday during a ceremony in Tallahassee.
Half of Florida’s legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year’s legislative sessions.
“As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.
Several lawmakers contacted about their grades questioned the concept of fairly and accurately scoring how they addressed and decided on open records bills.
“It’s a little simplistic to think you can reduce this to a mathematical formula. It’s a little more complicated,” said Rep. Rick Roth, R-Wellington, who has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Emory University,
Roth, who was graded a D-minus, added, “The Sunshine Law is great in principle, but what it actually assumes is everybody is a crook. I just think it needs a little bit of tweaking.”
Florida’s Legislature established public records laws as early as the early 20th century, created the Government in the Sunshine Law in the late 1960s, and in 1992 established a “constitutional right of access.” Because of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, the state’s records and meetings are more accessible than in most states. But the Legislature has, year in and year out, instituted, or considered instituting, numerous exemptions. The body, on average, imposes up to a dozen a year.
Petersen said the recent session accounted for “a near record number of new exemptions created, but we see few bills that actually would improve access to either meetings or records.”
The 2017 Legislature created 26 exemptions and expanded another, then instituted yet one more exemption during its special session. Should Gov. Rick Scott approve all the 28 new exemptions, the grand total over the years would be 1,150.
The three legislative Fs — actually F-minuses — were assigned to two representatives from southwest Florida and one from the Jacksonville area.
The single lowest score went to Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, who sponsoredHouse Bill 351, which would have made secret records of public college president searches; and House Bill 843, which would have allowed two members of a government board to meet privately. Both bills failed. Rommel also voted on the House floor against government openness in five of seven cases.
Daniels did not personally return a reporter’s call, instead providing a prepared statement that doesn’t directly address her grade but says that getting the two public records exemptions passed, as well as four others, as a freshman legislator, “exceeds more than I could have imagined accomplishing.”
And all five voted for HB 111, which hides the identification of murder witnesses — Harrell co-sponsored it — as well as SB 118, which hides criminal histories. Those two bills passed and were signed by Scott.
No legislator earned an A in the same way the others got the Fs. Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, voted for government openness in six of seven floor votes and earned a B-plus, the same grade given to Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.
Despite his favorable score, Geller is bucking for “at least an A-minus,” pointing out that he so frequently asks about the First Amendment Foundation’s position on open government bills that he said he “got a pretty bad ribbing about it on the floor from other legislators.”
Just six Democrats and three Republicans earned a score of B-minus or better. And 17 Democrats and 63 Republicans drew grades of D-plus or worse.
For Democrats, the most common grade was a C-minus. Dozens of Republicans drew C-minus grades, but more got a D-plus.
Scores in the House were much more likely to be lower than those in the Senate. Some of that may be because of HB 111, which drew nearly two dozen sponsors and co-sponsors in the House. The bill, which hides information about witnesses to murders, was signed by Scott in May.
Roth, of Wellington, defended his position on secrecy for the process of hiring public college presidents, explaining that while he’d be OK with making candidates public once there’s a “short list” of finalists, he feared scaring away top-flight candidates who don’t want their respective college leadership to know they’re shopping for a new position.
On HB 843, dealing with talks between two officials, Roth said he voted for it — in fact he was a co-sponsor — but said it probably went too far and “I’m glad it failed.” He said he’d like to see a new bill with conditions that would satisfy opponents — such as requiring staff be present and notes be taken to be made public later. He said he supports trying to head off “skullduggery” but he said many elected bodies now are dominated by staffers who “pretty much drive the bus,” and since officials can’t talk in advance, “they don’t come to the board meeting fully informed.”
Roth also noted the bill to protect crime witnesses does require they’re eventually identified, and while he didn’t remember much of SB 118, he saw a desire to protect the privacy of people who had committed crimes in the past.
The First Amendment Foundation’s Petersen did note that, because the scorecard reflects only votes and sponsorship, it might skew perception of legislators’ attitudes toward open government.
For example, she said, Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, who is in line to become Senate Democratic leader in 2018, “always has something to say about open government when something comes up on the (Senate) floor.”
But, she said, “what we would like to see is more awareness from some legislators, and we’re hoping that’s what this project will do.”
She said the last bill that improved access to meetings was pushed three years ago by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, now Senate President. And, she said, “We haven’t seen anything passed by the Legislature to enhance the right of access to public records since 1995. We did see a couple of bills that would improve access, but they didn’t even get a committee hearing.”
Some South Florida lawmakers also argued the scorecard’s narrow focus on open government doesn’t leave room for considering good policy.
On HB 111, for example, “It’s not that hard of a reach to say this law will keep others from being murdered,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who earned a C-minus. ” I realize they (the First Amendment Foundation) are a one-issue, one-note organization. But at a certain point, reality comes crashing in to any philosophy.”
And Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, who also earned a C-minus, said, “It’s not that I don’t respect the First Amendment Foundation. It’s that I’m going to do whatever I can do as a legislator to begin to bring justice to individuals who are being murdered senselessly.”
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat and another of those who earned a C-minus, said, “People are trying to get good grades from these organizations, instead of looking at whether it’s fair policy. The only grade that matters is the one that my residents give me when they decide to re-elect me into office.”
Two of the top four grades went to Republican senators from Tampa Bay: Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Bill Galvano of Bradenton.
“Our goal is that there be a completely transparent and open government,” Brandes said. He, along with Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg — who received a B-minus — sponsored legislation that protects court clerks from being sued if they release confidential information due to an error committed by a lawyer involved in a case. Current law isn’t clear on the issue.
Diamond called HB 843, the proposal to let two elected officials meet, an “existential threat” to open government in Florida.
“In the Legislature, we can meet with another legislator one-on-one, so I thought that the state government shouldn’t be treated any differently than the local government,” he said.
Thirteen Tampa Bay area lawmakers scored below a C.
“This ‘scorecard’ was created by a special interest group that thinks legislators should cater to the group’s own political agenda rather than do what is in the best interest of the people of Florida,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, who scored a D-plus.
Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz — who scored a D-plus — called inclusion of HB 111, the witness-identity bill, in the scorecard, “just plain silly.” And Latvala said, “If I have to vote on that bill 100 more times, I will vote 100 more times for that bill.”
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
When setting out a game plan to become elected governor of the third largest state in the nation, it’s probably not in the playbook for a political candidate to get into a shouting match with a news reporter in front of other members of the press.
But that’s Philip Levine.
Last month, the Miami Beach Mayor got into a spat with a bar owner at a press conference where he was announcing a proposal to limit alcohol sales and reduce outdoor noise on Ocean Drive.
“I think that what people want and what they’re missing in a lot of their elected leaders is a really unique word called authenticity, saying how you feel, being a little less filtered,” Levine told POLITICO Florida reporter Marc Caputo in a discussion Friday morning at the U.S. Conference of Mayors kicked off at the Fontainebleau Hotel.
“For me, I always say I’m authentic,” Levine said regarding his dispute with bar owner Daniel Wallace. “I am which I am, and as a business guy and an entrepreneur, I speak his language pretty loud and clear.”
Levine’s proposal to limit alcohol sales at outdoor venues along Ocean Drive will go before the voters in November.
The 55-year-old mayor is playing host this weekend to more than 250 mayors from across the country who have descended upon Miami Beach for the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting, the first time the city has hosted the event since 1962.
Levine is currently in the “testing the waters” phase of a potential gubernatorial candidacy. Although a Democrat who campaigned extensively for Hillary Clinton last year for president, Levine surprised much of the Florida political establishment last month when he announced at a Tampa Tiger Bay meeting that he was considering a run as an independent.
“I tell everyone, I’m a Democrat, but I’m a radical centrist, I’m an American before I’m anything, and that’s the most important thing,” Levine told Caputo when asked about his gubernatorial aspirations. “I’m not left or right, I’m forward. If that’s a Democratic hat, great? If not, we’ll see, and I haven’t made any decisions.”
Levine’s visible expressions of anger haven’t been limited to heckling bar owners. The mayor has also reacted brusquely with Florida political reporters on Twitter.
“You learn in this game of politics that people love to grandstand, they like to go after you for different things,” he said. “I came in with a thinner skin. My skin now is kind of like alligators.”
Although not calling him out by name, Levine took a shot at Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran on a couple of occasions in the interview.
Referring to his campaign to strip funding for “corporate welfare” public agencies like Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Levine said he sided with Scott on the months long dispute between the state’s two top elected Republicans in the state.
“I can’t vouch whether it’s well run, well funded, it should be changed, but I know the concept is good,” he said of Enterprise Florida, which ultimately received $85 million in state funding in the FY 2018 budget. “It’s unfortunate that the governor was caught in a situation where folks were playing politics with him,” he said, adding that he felt the same about Visit Florida.
“One thing that people are sick of is people playing politics with good things, and the only one who suffers in the people.”
Levine has also been involved in a high profile spat with Airbnb in Miami Beach. While he was dueling with executives of the short term rental startup, the Florida Legislature was working on a proposal that would have limited the ability of local governments to regulate short-term vacation rentals.
Although that proposal fizzled, Levine still resents the idea that Tallahassee knows best.
“What works in Miami may not work in Pennsylvania, and vice versa, so I think it’s a local issue,” he told Caputo, “but unfortunately, we have a state that seems to be thinking that the old Soviet style of central planning from Moscow is the way to go and it’s not the way to go, it’s better to have local control.”
As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.
Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.
With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney JohnMorgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.
“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.
On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”
“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues saidearlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”
The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.
Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.
The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.
The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.
Change is coming to the way the Florida Building Code is updated.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 1021) into law Friday that, among other things, changes the way the state’s building code is updated. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, requires the Florida Building Commission to review and determine which parts of international and national codes to adopt, instead of automatically adopting the national codes.
Florida currently uses the International Code — building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country — as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code.
Under the bill signed into law Friday, the Florida Building Commission would be allowed to review international and national codes to determine which provisions need to be adopted, instead of adopting the entire code and making amendments. The commission would be required to adopt any provisions necessary to maintain eligibility for federal funding and discounts from the National Flood Insurance Program, the Federal Emergency Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The change was backed by the Florida Home Builders Association, which said streamlined future changes to the building code. However, building code officials had called on Scott to veto the measure saying that by signing it Scott would be abandoning “a process that has worked effectively since Hurricane Andrew.”
“The Florida Building Code is widely regarded as among the most effective set of building codes in the nation,” wrote Doug Wise, the president of the Building Officials Association, in a June 16 letter to Scott asking for a veto. “This is because the code development process established by the Florida Legislature ‘got it right’ when the decision was made to base Florida’s codes on the national model codes. These model codes are developed and updated through a consensus process and are the foundation documents which are modified to address Florida-specific conditions.”
Wise went on to say that signing the bill could lead to a weakened building code, which would “disconnect Florida’s building professionals from the ongoing updates of the national model codes and will lead to a stagnate, out-of-date, set of regulations, harming the citizens of Florida by creating a less safe built environment.”
Earlier this year, Jeremy Stewart with the Florida Home Builders Association told Florida Politics that suggestions that changing the way the code is updated would diminish home building safety are “flat out false, disappointing, and coming from vendors in the process who manufacture items installed in homes, not those who shake hands with the consumers at the end of the day.”
Several state lawmakers — including Reps. Scott Plakon, Neil Combee, and Randy Fine — have received messages from their constituents asking them to block Grant from running for re-election and running for Speaker during the 2022-24 term, saying the Tampa Republican has already served eight years in office and any more would be in violation of the state Constitution.
The push comes just days after Nick Tomboulides, the executive director of U.S. Term Limits, wrote a post on the group’s website urging Floridians to contact their legislator to stop “Grant from cheating term limits.”
“He has not only filed to run for a fifth consecutive term in 2018, but Grant says he wants to stay in the House to become Speaker in 2024! That would make 14 consecutive years in office, almost double the legal limit,” wrote Tomboulides in a June 21 post on U.S. Term Limits’ website.
“Grant must believe he is above the law. He is attempting to justify his actions by pointing to a brief pause in his service from 2014-2015, when Grant’s friends in the Legislature vacated his seat. He was back in his job just 155 days later, mostly missing time when the House wasn’t in session,” he continued. “According to Grant, this meaningless gap started his term limit clock all over again, giving him a fresh eight years-plus.”
Tomboulides wrote a similar op-ed also ran on Sunshine State News website on June 16. Established in the early 1990s, U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based group, advocates for term limits at all levels of government.
First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Grant’s 2014 re-election campaign was embroiled in controversy. In the months leading up to the election, Tampa attorney Michael Steinberg filed suit over write-in candidate Daniel Matthews.
Steinberg, who was married to Grant’s GOP opponent Miriam Steinberg, said the write-in candidate should be disqualified because he didn’t live in the district. At the time, the Tampa Tribune reported that Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey agreed, and disqualified him. However, Matthews appealed, and panel of judges with the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with him.
While the legal battle was continued, the election played. Grant would eventually win the election; however, the House threw out those election results and vacated the seat. According to a Tampa Tribune report at the time, the House cited the months-long and unresolved litigation over the write-in candidacy.
Gov. Rick Scott ordered a special election, which Grant handily won. And since the seat was vacant when Grant won the special election, he won a new term — not a re-election.
That has left some Floridians irked, and they’re sounding off to their state representatives. In an email to Plakon, Casselberry resident Janet Leonard said she was “very disheartened to learn that Rep. Grant is evading the eight-year term limit set in place by 77 percent of Florida voters in 1992.”
“Why does one man believe he is above the law and not subject to these limits,” she wrote Plakon, according to an email provided to FloridaPolitics.com. “A 155-day hiatus doesn’t change the fact that he’s been in office for each of eight consecutive years. As my state representative, you should stop grant from cheating term limits and becoming a future Speaker.”
In another email, Longwood resident Albert Simpson tells Plakon that “term limits are an essential part of Florida government that stop elected officials from abusing their power.” He goes on to ask Plakon to tell Grant to step down from office instead of violating term limits.
Grant is one of four candidates in the running to be the Speaker of the House beginning in 2022, if Republicans keep their majority. Grant and Rep. Paul Renner, who was elected in a special election in April 2015, are considered to be the leading contenders for the post.
The freshman GOP caucus is expected to vote for its leader, and eventual Speaker, during a meeting in Central Florida on June 30.
The two most powerful people in Jacksonville politics starting in July: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Council President Anna Brosche.
The two have similarities: introverted personalities, CPAs, Republicans in their mid-40s.
And they have differences — which will soon need resolution.
There are those who lined up with Brosche in the Council presidency race who allege that one of Curry’s senior staff twisted arms to get people to support John Crescimbeni. There are also those who claim Tommy Hazouri, a Curry allylike Crescimbeni despite being a senior Democrat, had the head of the fire union making calls for Crescimbeni in a classic hell-freezes-over moment.
Brosche, in short, has no incentive to play ball. Allegedly.
Smart folks in City Hall will watch what happens July 17, when Curry drops his budget, and in August, when a reconfigured Finance Committee makes its tweaks to the document … with Sam Mousa and Mike Weinstein from the Mayor’s Office reminding those on hand how the game was played the first two years.
Will the new blood on Finance care? And will Curry’s allies have enough juice?
Of course, Council can’t sign contracts — that’s the mayor’s role. Whatever tension might exist between Council Leadership, and the Mayor’s Office (and the pressure inside Council itself) will need resolution — otherwise, it will be a quotable, newsworthy third year for Lenny Curry … which would not have been the case had Crescimbeni prevailed.
Lots of City Hall in this edition, but there is other news as well. Including a congressman sticking close to President Trump …
John Rutherford doesn’t worry about Trump/Russia connection
On Tuesday in Jacksonville, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford — an ally of Donald Trump — discussed the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the parallel investigations of the Trump Administration.
“I want them to look at Russia’s attempt to interject themselves into our election process through cyberactivity and all that,” Rutherford said, “but I don’t see any collusion, I don’t think they’re going to find any collusion. It’s been almost six months now.”
“If they were going to find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, I think it would have already been uncovered. So I’m not concerned at all about that. And I’m also not concerned about this idea that somehow … whatever the conversation was with [former FBI Director James] Comey, obstruction of justice,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford believes that much of the maelstrom around this story is politically motivated.
“Not the investigation that’s dealing with the cyberattack. Obviously, that occurred; we know it occurred; we know it’s been occurring. In fact,” said Rutherford, “we have to address not only the Russian hacking and others — China, others — who hacked not only our voting system but also our electrical grids and all sorts of attacks we’re experiencing.”
New blood rising
Was the fix in? Some in Jacksonville’s City Hall claim a quid pro quo was in play when President-Designate Broscheannounced her new committee assignments.
The big takeaway: four African-American Democrats backing her for the presidency ended up on the Finance Committee.
The priorities of their historically underserved communities will take a prominent place in the budget process, as the city digests its “budget relief” to come. The four members will be a decisive bloc in the process, signaling a shift from previous years.
There is grumbling, of course, from some in City Hall about these picks: off-record comments about “deals” and the like. Whatever the case, though, it worked out in the short term. Brosche got the presidency, and African-American Democrats will call the shots on Finance.
The big losers: Brosche’s opponent, John Crescimbeni, along with key backers Tommy Hazouri and Bill Gulliford — the latter of which vowed early on that he would not serve on a standing committee under Brosche — and that came to pass.
Gulliford noted that he is “conspicuously absent” from committees.
“I offered my services,” Gulliford said, “but I guess she didn’t need me … time for new blood, I guess.”
Offices are being moved. Seating is being shuffled. And the good ol’ boys are having a bad time so far.
Curry made it clear to the Florida Times-Union editorial board Wednesday that he wants the Jacksonville Landing back under city control.
The riverfront mall, a novelty in 1987, is an eyesore in 2017.
He said he’s made “soft offers” to buy the buildings, but the owners have “drawn a line in the sand.”
“We’ve got a plan internally to put the screws and keep pushing this,” Curry said during a meeting with the Times-Union editorial board. “The city ought to have that property now and be working a plan to find the best and highest use for it, maybe with a private entity, perhaps not.”
The opioid overdose epidemic continues unabated in Jacksonville, with more details coming out on the city’s strategy to address it.
911 calls for overdoses: up 3x in two years, with 421 this February. $4M of a $1.1B budget for transport, and more money for Narcan.
The proposed plan: $1.5M for a program called “Project Save Lives.”
A measure of Gulliford’s declining stroke in Council was to be found during committee discussionof the bill; while it got through the panels. Gulliford was buffeted by criticism that bordered on the personal, especially by Finance Chair-Designate Garrett Dennis and Finance Vice Chair-Designate Danny Becton.
What do they pay you to do?
Community Rehabilitation Center, the non-profit run by Councilman Reggie Gaffney, is being sued by a whistleblower who asserts she had to deal with HIV-positive clients without state-mandated training.
Gaffney ducked responsibility, saying that staff trained people, despite the plaintiff arguing that she went to Gaffney but got no recourse — and ended up fired for her trouble.
Gaffney’s cover story? He was too busy with City Council to handle CRC business. However, Gaffney managed to make $90,000 a year while on City Council — working 50 hours a week, according to CRC’s 2016 tax return.
When we asked Gaffney about these seeming discrepancies Tuesday afternoon, specifically how it was that he was able to spend his “time being a City Councilman,” while pulling down $90,000 a year for a 50-hour workweek, Gaffney offered a “no comment” before asserting that he works “80 hours a week, seven days a week.”
Responsibility for training, he said, rested with his HR person and his staff.
“I do know this: last 24 years, I probably hired 500 or 600 [staffers], and we’ve trained them all the same,” Gaffney said earlier Tuesday.
JEA to move HQ
WOKV reports that JEA has finally worked out a plan to get out from under the JEA Tower, an older building in need of tens of millions of dollars of repair work.
That plan: a land swap.
“We commissioned a consultant to look at the study for us and look at some of the options that we have for our Downtown campus, and between their work and ours, we’ve concluded the best path forward is to build a new campus,” said chief financial officer Melissa Dykes Tuesday.
The land is adjacent to the Duval County Courthouse, in an area of downtown characterized by sparse, outmoded development and blight.
JTA on the move
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is making some audacious moves that they hope will offer regional transportation solutions.
Richard Clark of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority contacted Mayor Curry for support on a federal grant application last week.
“JTA is submitting a Low-No grant application for electric buses that will help serve the Amazon facility on the Northside. This will be the beginning of JTA’s electric vehicle/bus fleet,” Clark wrote in a June 14 email.
The program, asserted Clark, will use JEA’s “Solar Smart” program, which “ensures the powering of the buses will be from their solar system … 100 percent renewable.”
The JTA center, to be constructed in Jacksonville’s historic LaVilla neighborhood, will accommodate Greyhound, Uber, Megabus, the Skyway, First Coast Flyer and other modes of travel, in what is designed to be a regional focus.
Greyhound will go online in January 2018; construction of the whole 50,000 square foot center will be completed by the fall of 2019, a process abetted by JTA having “$33 million in pocket” for the work on the $50M project, one that is expected to turn LaVilla into a “live, work and play” center for this part of town.
Jacksonville mulls raising emergency reserve
Some Jacksonville City Councilors wanted to boost the city’s emergency reserve from 5 percent to 6 percent in January, but were advised to hold off until pension reform was finalized.
With that herculean task complete, the Mayor’s Office is set, via its new budget, to raise that level — though the operating reserve would be cut to 7 percent from 8 percent, meaning reserve levels would be the same.
A big story of the budget season has been the Mayor’s Office cautioning various departments that budget relief does not mean a spending spree, with some grousing about Councilors wanting to dip into the general fund for spending outside the budget process.
In that context, the proposed raise of the emergency reserve is significant, in seeing what the priorities of the Curry Administration will be going forward.
Eight ain’t enough
Term limits were imposed by voter plebiscite on the Jacksonville City Council decades back, yet Councilman Matt Schellenbergbelieves that institutional knowledge outweighs voter predilection.
It would be for councilors, School Board members, and constitutional officers — except for the Mayor.
The legislation cleared committees February but was pulled, as the referendum would have competed with the pension reform referendum on the August ballot, and the Best Bet slots referendum on the November ballot.
With those referendums in the rearview mirror, it’s all-clear to bring back the bill.
The sub proposes three four-year terms, rather than the abolishment of term limits.
“In four years, do we change it to four, maybe,” Council VP John Crescimbeni quipped.
Reform coming for Jax children’s programs
The Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey — two programs that serve “at-hope” Jacksonville children, with the idea of keeping them away from temptations of crime and vice, are under scrutiny, Mayor Curry told us this month.
“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.
“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”
“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.
“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.
The Curry Administration is not averse to re-orgs: the Neighborhoods Department was reinstated in Curry’s term after being phased out in the previous administration.
Hot hot hot
Folks in the real estate game talk about how hot Jacksonville real estate is — at least in the areas of town where people actually want to live. And external confirmation came this month via MarketWatch, which deemed Jacksonville the seventh hottest real estate market in the country.
The survey “looked at 120 metropolitan areas that had at least 100,000 single-family homes and condos. Those that scored the highest combined affordable homes with access to jobs.”
Jacksonville’s “tale of two cities” narrative has long since become a cliché. But — at least for now — there are “great expectations” for Jacksonville’s real estate market. Location, location, location.
Riverkeeper decries dredge; water is wet
The long-awaited dredging of the St. Johns River to 47 feet near JAXPORT delights most politicians, yet appalls the St. Johns Riverkeeper.
On Thursday, the Riverkeeper decried the “deep dredge runaround” of late from pro-dredging forces in the press.
The news release describes dredging advocates as “frustrated by the lack of funding support” for the project backed by port advocates, an interesting tack to take in light of $17.5M in federal money and support for the project from the state as well.
The frustration, the Riverkeeper says, resulted in a scaling down of the project from 13 to 11 miles.
The Riverkeeper also cites evidence of contravened transparency, including a lack of public hearing, a lack of local funding or a cost estimate meeting the Riverkeeper’s muster, no analysis of the new specs from the Army Corps of Engineers, and an ongoing lawsuit from the Riverkeeper.
Meanwhile, projections of jobs and other economic impacts are deemed to be overblown.
Bring a checkbook to the Yacht Club
Save the date!
On June 29, Jacksonville’s Florida Yacht Club will be about more than yachts: the exclusive location will hold a fundraiser for one of Duval’s own sons as he mounts a statewide campaign for Attorney General.
State Rep. Jay Fant‘s event, which promises “fellowship” and an opportunity to “hear about the campaign,” runs from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The biggest name on the host committee: former Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson, who may be double-booked that evening, as the installation of new officers for the Jacksonville City Council will be held at 6 p.m. June 29 at the Times-Union Center.
Contributions are to be made at attendees’ “discretion.”
In May, Fant showed some fundraising momentum with the Northeast Florida donor class.
Fant emerged with $79,575 of new money; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day,” which raised $9,000 in May.
Save the date: Clay Yarborough fundraiser
State Rep. Yarborough hosts a high-profile fundraiser for his House District 12 re-election campaign Tuesday, June 27, beginning 5 p.m. at the Jacksonville offices of Foley & Lardner, One Independent Dr., Suite 1300. Guests include State Sens. Aaron Bean, Rob Bradley, and Travis Hutson; State Reps. Cord Byrd, Paul Renner, Cyndi Stevenson, Travis Cummings and Jason Fischer; Jacksonville City Councilman Gulliford and Marty Fiorentino, among others.
Bean named 2017 Child Advocate of Year
The Fernandina Beach Republican was awarded Northeast Florida Pediatric Society’s (NEFPS) 2017 Child Advocate of the Year. This award recognizes support and commitment to pediatric medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the children of Florida.
“As a longtime advocate for pediatric health care and a former chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand the importance of constantly working to improve the health of our children and making sure all of Florida’s youth have access to exceptional pediatric care,” Bean said in a statement.
Volunteers needed for July 5 Beach Cleanup
Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the City of Jacksonville join Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol to call for volunteers for its annual July 5 Beaches Cleanup following the Independence Day holiday. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., volunteers will be given litter collection bags and gloves at Atlantic Boulevard at the ocean, Beach Boulevard at the ocean and 16th Avenue South at the ocean to remove litter and debris along the shoreline, weather permitting. Participants must be at least 18 or accompanied by an adult, should wear sturdy footwear and sun protection, and should bring their own drinking water. For more information, call Keep Jacksonville Beautiful at (904) 255-8276 or the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol at (904) 613-6081.
Downtown Jax rising
More than dozen projects in the works for Downtown Jacksonville. Some are under construction, while others are moving through the approval and planning process.
According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, projects include: The Lofts at LaVilla, a 130-unit apartment project (30 percent pre-leased) near the Prime Osborn Convention Center; Laura Street Trio, planned to have a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, bodega, café, restaurant, rooftop bar and retail space; Barnett Bank building, with nearly $1 million in construction permits are pending for the project that will house about 100 market-rate apartments, a ground-floor bank and retail space.
Other projects are Lofts at Monroe, which begin August in La Villa. Plans call for a five-story, 108-unit affordable housing complex marketed to people making $29,000 a year or less.
Developer Mike Balanky wants to turn a Downtown Cathedral District block into a mixed-use project, featuring 115 to 120 apartments, and retail space at the former Community Connections, Inc. building. Vista Brooklyn is a rooftop pool and beer garden to include 14,000 square feet of retail space, 308 apartments, and an eight-story parking garage. Doro District will transform a vacant industrial building at Forsyth Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard into an entertainment complex. Elena Flats, one of just three remaining Downtown apartment buildings constructed in the 20 years after the Great Fire of 1901, is being restored to its original historic state.
Following loss, Armada goes back to work against Puerto Rico FC for Heritage Night
Following a loss in Miami Saturday that dropped the Armada eight points behind the first-place team from South Florida and into third in the NASL table, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that Jacksonville gets back to work this Saturday against Puerto Rico. For that game, the club will celebrate Puerto Rico Heritage Night. Kickoff is set 6 p.m. at Hodges Stadium on the UNF Campus.
This will be the third meeting in history between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico, and the first in the 2017 North American Soccer League Spring Season. Puerto Rico FC is in last place in the league and if Jacksonville is going to make a final run at the Spring title with four games left they must win this game.
Music from local Puerto Rican music group, Renacer Borincano, will be filling the stands at Hodges Stadium. Fans are encouraged to bring guiros, campanas, panderos, shekeres, and other Puerto Rican instruments to the match and join in the mix of Bomba and Plena music during halftime.
The concourse concessions will be featuring Boricua and Taino Puerto Rican beer for sale. Concessions will also be cooking empanadillas and alcapurrias for those who want a taste of Puerto Rico on this branded theme night.
Also, several Jacksonville Jaguars rookies will be attending as part of the pre-match coin toss. After warmups, fans will have the special opportunity to meet the rookies and get their autographs along the grandstand fence. This is third successive year the Jaguars and Armada have had coordinated event at a soccer match.
Community First Credit Union will be holding a contest before kickoff to upgrade four lucky fans’ seats to the VIP suite at Hodges Stadium. Fans can enter to win at the Community First Credit Union table on the concourse. The lucky winners will experience the exciting action like never before with all-inclusive food and beverages, gifts, and comfortable accommodations inside the VIP suite.
Equality Florida is accusing Gov. Rick Scott of breaking a promise made last year to the organization that he would issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ state employees from discrimination in hiring and contracting.
Now the Florida Democratic Party is piling on.
On June 28, 2016, just 16 days after the deadly attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people, Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith joined Government Affairs Director (now state Rep.) Carlos Guillermo Smith to meet with officials from the Scott administration, asking for an executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
To buttress their argument, the pair were prepared with a hard copy of the executive order Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry signed that January that prohibits discrimination in the city based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. The message they received at the time — the administration needed a few weeks, and they would get back to them.
“The caveat was that they asked for two months to investigate the issue further, while they were also noting that they would come back to us if they realized they couldn’t issue the executive order, or if the governor himself was not on board,” says Guillermo Smith.
Two months went by, turning into longer weeks and months over the past year. Every time Equality Florida officials checked back with the governor’s office, they were put off by the latest development, be it the Zika virus, hurricanes, or the upcoming Legislative Session.
“What more do you have to investigate?” Guillermo Smith asked.
Now more than a year later, Equality Florida says they’re done waiting.
“It seems if there was ever a moment for him to issue an executive order, it was then, and by failing to do so, we now want to publicly hold him accountable for not taking meaningful action to protect LGBTQ people in Florida,” says Hannah Willard, EqualityFlorida public policy director.
Some gay rights activists were pleased with the governor earlier this month. That was after he released a statement proclaiming Monday, June 12th as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” where he acknowledged that the attack was directed at the “LGBTQ and Hispanic” communities, specifics that other high-ranking Republicans in Florida failed to note.
Under his powers as governor, Scott does have the power through the stroke of a pen to provide protections for state employees and for employees of businesses that contract with the state. An executive order wouldn’t go as far as The Florida Competitive Workforce Act, however. That’s the bill that has come before the Legislature every year since 2010 that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
“Florida is a state that does not tolerate discrimination of any form,” Scott press secretary Lauren Schenone told FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday.
“In accordance with federal guidelines, Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way,” she said, adding: “Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”
Willard says Schenone’s statement seems to indicate that there are already protections on the basis of sexual orientation in Florida.
“It seems to be an implication that they’re already protections on the basis of sexual orientation in state law which we know is not true, there is no policy, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in his admin, because that would have required that a former governor, issued the executive order that we are asking him to issue, so I think his statement that he released last night further confirmed that his office does not intend to issue his executive order and that he sees no problem with the current state of discrimination in Florida.”
Scott never made a public promise, both sides agree.
Equality Florida officials are saying he intentionally kept the conversations private because they wanted to give the governor the benefit of the doubt. But they’re just over it now.
On Wednesday, the Florida Democratic Party piled on, blasting Scott for his reluctance to issue an executive order.
“In the wake of an unprecedented tragedy, Rick Scott made commitments to protect LGBTQ Floridians in the workplace so they can earn a living without fear of discrimination or losing their job,’ said FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone. “Now Scott is breaking those promises. Rick Scott talks a big game about jobs, but doesn’t seem to care about LGBTQ Floridians trying to make a living.”